ATHENS — Scott Cochran took center stage in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on Friday, kicking off a new era of sorts in the Kirby Smart Era.
“How’s everybody doing,” Cochran said, pulling his mask down for effect before continuing. “Just happy to be a Dawg, baby! Just happy to be here!”
Cochran is immediately likable. Unmistakably dynamic and confident, he somehow maintains a personable sense of humility.
Such attributes wouldn’t seem to go together, but with the 41-year Cochran, they certainly do.
Smart said when he hired Cochran on Feb. 24 that he judges staff on the ability to make “players want to run through a brick wall.”
Cochran, formerly a celebrated strength and conditioning coach at Alabama, seems to fit that billing.
Bulldogs’ fans can’t wait for the opening game on Sept. 26 at Arkansas. And now, with Cochran coaching special teams, there’s even more reason for anticipation.
“What a great way to set the tempo on special teams!” Cochran said on a Zoom call with reporters on Friday. “We start every game, every half. It’s like, let’s go.”
Will they be running down the field to hit people, or will they be running the ball back, Cochran teased.
The Georgia players are bought in.
Changing the narrative
The Bulldogs players are aware of the growing narrative. They’ve heard and seen critics charge that despite all the talent, they are part of a program that simply can’t finish the job, much less complete a list that begins with “Alabama, Clemson, LSU … ”
Cochran was a part of the Alabama roadblock that stood in Georgia’s way in 2017 and 2018. Cochran built championship bodies and championship mindsets in Tuscaloosa.
“He’s been the backbone for the organization at Alabama,” Tua Tagovailoa said of Cochran at the NFL combine. “It’s going to be hard. Alabama is definitely going to miss him.”
Cochran comes by his ability to motivate and teach naturally, his father a military man, his mother, a teacher.
Every coaching staff claims to have energy.
But just like the sun stands out among stars, Cochran lights up a room and warms up players like no other.
Birmingham television station WBRC referred to Cochran having “rock star status,” in its 2013 story about him.
Cochran’s “signature “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!’ yell made it to the same Jumbotron that once featured the voice of the stadium’s namesake, legendary Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Georgia punter Jake Camarda explained there’s more to the newest UGA assistant than the glitz and glamor and sideline antics he has become known for in the SEC.
“Coach Cochran is just a really great dude … whether he’s getting on us, or whether he’s picking us up, he’s always on our side and rooting for us to get better,” Camarda said in a recent Zoom session.
“The outside world sees the crazy part of him. But us being here, we see another part at the same time, because he’s a good dude, he’s rooting for us.”
Cochran, after 18 years working for Nick Saban at LSU and Alabama, is indeed now pulling for Georgia.
Cochran said it was time to leave Alabama and pursue the transition to on-field coaching.
But, Cochran was asked, is he motivated by the fact Saban wouldn’t afford him that same opportunity in Tuscaloosa?
“You can use anything for motivation,” Cochran said. “To me, the question goes deeper. I think Coach Saban has my back; I worked for him for 18 years. If the position would have been open [at Alabama], it probably would have been a possibility.”
Probably, a possibility …
Revenge on Saban
All of Saban’s former assistants respect him, but the also desperately want to beat them.
None have, Saban’s domination currently standing at 19-0 including those two wins against Smart in the national championship game (2017 season) and SEC title game (2018).
Cochran is at Georgia to help take down Saban, the SEC’s undisputed coaching kingpin and living legend.
“For me, I wanted to work with Coach Smart,” Cochran said, perhaps looking to diplomatically distance himself from the reports that Saban had hassled him behind closed doors leading up to his departure.
“I wanted to work with somebody who I see eye-to-eye on with a lot of things,” Cochran said. “I see the same with Coach Saban, obviously. I wouldn’t be here without him.
“But with Coach Smart, I feel like there’s a big emphasis on some things that I’m big on.”
Smart hired Cochran to have a bigger presence in the program than just special teams.
“We felt like (Cochran) brought a lot to the table in terms of the entire organization,” Smart said earlier this year. “Ask anyone who’s been around him, Scott’s passion and energy is contagious.”
Cochran’s stage presence is part of the reason he was out in front of the media on Friday. Smart’s previous protocol was to allow offensive and defensive coordinators one preseason press conference..
This was a show-and-tell session to introduce the affable Cochran to the Georgia fans and donors. But more importantly, the Bulldogs’ recruits got a taste of the immediate future.
Former UGA coordinator Mel Tucker said upon leaving Athens that the iron curtain policy Smart copied from Saban was a disadvantage for assistants on the recruiting trail. Many of the young prospects the assistants were trying to reach had never seen nor heard their names before.
Now, in this COVID-19 world, where recruiting visits are restricted and Twitter and Instagram are sometimes the first point of contact, Smart has likely identified that and gone on the offensive.
“Everything (Smart) does,” Cochran noted, “He has a process and an organized plan for everything.”
Indeed, Smart recently stressed the importance of adapting among his keys for winning a championship this season.
Besides, Smart relishes giving his old friend the biggest break of his coaching career.
This Georgia job provides a launch pad for Cochran to win another national title and work in the direction of his aspirations to one day be a head coach.
Cochran stood behind the podium on Friday knowing there had been a great deal of build-up and hype around his addition to the Georgia staff. He admitted he was nervous.
But then, Cochran also pointed out, anxiety is part of the game.
“I think nerves are part of it, I love it,” Cochran said.
“I think John ‘Bones’ Jones said ‘You get the butterflies, the key is to fly in formation.’ If you’re not nervous and anxious, I don’t think it’s important to you.”
There will be brighter stages and closer examination ahead for Cochran.
The most important questions will be answered on the scoreboard.
The Georgia quarterback scramble
Georgia assistant Scott Cochran